Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
On Sunday, on the Hello Kitty of Blogging I made an observation…and a funny…
Over the last twenty to thirty years or so, we have been seeing the ascension of a modern cultural crisis which takes the form of: People who loathe any kind of reckoning with details, insisting on unilateral control over efforts that can only be successfully realized by dealing with details. Examples abound and an exhaustive listing of them would not be useful here.
As is the case with most things, if we’re merely pondering what’s going on and figuring out what to do about it, any “exhaustive listing” wouldn’t be of much use anywhere. On the other hand, if you’re seeing some task through to the end and the task has any layers of complexity to it at all, you have to make a list and it has to be complete. I’ve had this out with my son throughout the years during our battles about homework; now that he’s in high school it seems the lesson is starting to sink in. (That puts him three years ahead of me, at the same stage.) I’ve lately taken to referring to this with a metaphor involving a “heap of gravel.” What thoughts and feelings are churning away inside you, as you pick up a shovel and tackle a pile of gravel that is so large and so heavy, that all you can do is slog away at it endlessly; hoping against hope that there isn’t some guy, or bunch of guys, maybe a machine, depositing more gravel in the pile on the other end? Answer: Not much. Just “let’s go,” and that’s when you are at your best. The mind shuts down. You feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you are overwhelmed with a sense of boredom and, ultimately, futility. You may actually see it through, and the results may be impressive when you’re finally finished. But you’re not at your best, you aren’t operating efficiently.
And worst of all, if someone comes along asking for a progress report or estimated date & time of completion, you can’t give them one.
So what I’ve been teaching him is: Before you start any task that is sufficiently complex that it requires a list to define what exactly it is — and most tasks are like this — make the list. Let’s look at it logically. There are three things you’re trying to do: 1) Keep yourself out of that depressing, soul-sucking “pile of gravel” mindset; 2) Track your progress, or at the very least maintain yourself in a position to do that; 3) At any given stage, after you have completed certain subtasks, make some qualified, informed decisions about what you should be working on next. The last of those may be the most important of all. You have to prioritize.
An exhaustive listing is needed for prioritizing. Prioritizing is nothing more than a decision based on a sequencing of some kind, and since it is sequencing, if the list is not complete then the decision is nothing better than guesswork. And then there are those other two objectives, staying out of the pile-of-gravel, and tracking progress. Both of those depend on the production of a fraction at any given time, a quotient between 0 and 1, showing how much of the task has been done and how much of it remains. Without that quotient you cannot do these other two things. Without the quantity of subtasks defined, you cannot produce the quotient because you won’t have the gross count which becomes the divisor. Without a record of each subtask, and some status maintained for each one, you won’t be able to produce the dividend. The quotient is the dividend divided by the divisor, right? So you need both of those two to make the one.
So quit fidgeting & pretending your pencil is a spaceship, and make the [expletive] list.
Do it, first and foremost, to get that number in Column A, row <n>; and, that “Completed” column whichever one it may be, so you can produce your fraction. Then, use your noggin to figure out what your prioritizing strategy is. The strategy determines what other columns go in. If the strategy is more complex than you might have thought at first, you’re going to need more columns than you thought you would. And this will usually happen. Build it once, make it proper, make it good, make it useful. Build it so it only has to be built one time. Go ahead and “waste” that time because it’s better to lose it up front rather than later.
I’m confident that this is putting him on a path that generally meanders toward success. This certainly would have been true some half-century ago. But I must confess, looking at where the world is going, this rising antagonism toward grappling with details, I have my doubts.
All my professional success, looking back on it, has derived from the exercise described above. The way I see it, this is what work is. But I also notice most of my little conflicts in the work environment have come from this as well. It entails some measure of independent thought…not very much, by any fair standard, but some. I have learned, periodically, that there are some people who can’t stand this. It isn’t just because they’re threatened by it, although there might be some of that. I’ve encountered some conflict with professionals who simply seek to gel with me, to team up with me, with each of us lending our individual efforts toward a common goal, and they’ve found they can’t do it. It’s not exclusively their problem but then again, it seems to me it’s not exclusively mine either. There are those three objectives, aren’t there? How else are they to be done?
Throughout the years I have gradually learned that in many cases the answer is, simply: They aren’t being done. The first objective is to keep your thoughts and your emotional state out of that depressing mire of gravel-digging. The lesson has gradually sunk in, for me, that this whole thing that people call “education” without very much discussing what the education is supposed to be, has a lot to do with building up a tolerance for monotony. Compared to this frame of reference, I’m spoiled and I might have a raging case of what they now call ADD, because I haven’t built up this tolerance. What I’ve built up, instead, brings us to the second objective which is to produce periodic progress reports; I have come to the realization that while some professionals do have such a requirement built in to the descriptions of their jobs, the vast majority of them, even the ones in skilled, technical occupations, do not. Now in my case I have actually been one of the ones who do have such a job description, so if I wasn’t already building these kinds of checklists before my formal training in project management, I would have been forced to have started it then.
But the fact is, here is how it really works: The engineer keeps his job skills current by going to training, and the training is some mash-up between “here is how all the pieces of our product fit together,” and “here are the steps you follow to do this thing, if anything goes wrong then call our support line.” And by “mash-up” what I mean is, any given cert program may be all of one & none of the other, or some combination of the two — the training may make a point out of keeping the content heavy on the assembly-of-parts stuff and light on the scripted-process stuff, but it doesn’t matter because management, and I’m describing at a high, generalized level here, doesn’t give a rip. Management is either paying for the training or making hiring decisions based on the training. So the point is, this vital distinction between outcome and process, doesn’t matter much in the final analysis because it doesn’t have any currency. The market doesn’t value the distinction. We can quibble all day long about whether or not it should, but it doesn’t.
So the engineers are given some kind of knowledge, which they then supplement day-by-day by attending to the job. Regarding the work itself, they are typically tasked with going at it pile-of-gravel style. The “priority” sequencing I described amounts to: Keep working until the thing is done, and make some kind of informed decision about going home when it isn’t done yet, based on whether the thing is a mega-super-high priority. That’s how engineers deal with priority.
Then, they report to the project manager who centralizes all this concern about status, completed, producing the quotient, tracking the progress, et al. Along with, next-subtask-to-be-worked. Usually, it is the project manager who owns that; he figures out what it is, or else it is chosen in some meeting environment, with project stakeholders providing their input…which is very likely to be “chaired” by this project manager.
Now, this is such a simplified explanation that it demands a whole lot of caveats, and the caveats are not trivial. One certainly does hope that if a job requires something called “engineering,” it should entail some complexity even within the most minor tasks, at least greater complexity than what is involved when one uses a shovel to move a scoop of gravel. But at the highest level of what it seeks to point out, the explanation works, for what it seeks to point out is this: Corporate America, and perhaps Corporate Western Civilization, has been making a point of isolating this task-tracking job requirement into managerial roles that are specifically delegated to provide a proper stewardship over all of it. So that no one else has to.
I’m very reserved about discussing job stuff on the blog. But I’ve spent a lot of years on each of the two sides of this “line,” so to speak…and although I’m unsure of what is to be done about it, I’m thinking I’m sufficiently qualified to say I’ve described something that actually does exist. And, to the extent it exists, it seems to be exacerbating a cultural split amongst us, that runs rather deep.
Now, this ties in to the election wreckage from earlier this month, and the identity crisis conservatives are having as they try to figure out what it all means. There are those who suggest that America, when all’s said & done, is a liberal nation and we’d all do well to just get with the program. There certainly is some evidence to support this point of view; if a dominant theme did emerge on Election night, it was that many among our fellow citizens don’t seem to give a rat’s rear end about what the rest of us call “freedom,” and when those fellow citizens actually use the word, they aren’t using it to describe what we describe. I’ve noticed many of them insist that some defined and isolated class of oppressed-types is missing its “freedom” until the individuals within it are 1) held blameless for civil and criminal infractions, 2) never spoken of in any unflattering way, lest the speakers suffer some kind of swift punitive consequences for their “hate speech” and 3) offered a bunch of material goods and services free of charge. And maybe that’s just it; “freedom” means you get things for free. I’ve asked around as to whether things really are that simple, with one half of America defining “freedom” as freedom and the other half using the actual word to describe a post-capitalism phase in which people simply run around taking things without paying for them. I haven’t gotten a straight answer back on that yet. I’m not altogether sure what I should presume about that in the absence of any determinant answer, so I remain undecided. But it does make sense.
There are those others who suggest that America is not a liberal nation, that it is moderate to conservative; and it is voting the wrong way because it is uninformed, combined with the effect achieved when liberals have enjoyed the benefits of a choke-hold maintained on our educational institutions throughout much of the last century. I think I’m pretty much in this crowd. It seems to me the conservatives are still arguing about what went wrong because many among them are looking for the problem that has to be fixed, and with that accomplished the thinking is, although they won’t actually say so out loud because it sounds so silly, that everything will magically fall into place. Obviously, when there is more than one thing broken, that isn’t going to work out well over the long term. And there is. Mentally handicapped people being shuttled to the polling places, and coached to vote for Obama. If we’re looking for just one thing, we could start with that…Mitt Romney woulda-coulda-shoulda taken Michigan, Colorado, Florida, maybe even Pennsylvania and Ohio. There is the Electoral College we can be thinking about, and each of those states could have swung the other way with the vote count being altered not-by-much. But granting that — why should it even have been this close? Look at what kind of a leader Barack Obama really is. Inspiring, fills people with hope…uh, really? He just sucks. He plays golf, flies around, delivers speeches all of which are pretty much useless, ethereal, even interchangeable. Then He flies around some more and plays some more golf. Look out our foreign relations, look how the economy is doing. It’s all the very picture of a “leader” who is not a leader, isn’t even engaged. This shouldn’t even have been close.
The inescapable conclusion is that there are many broken things. (VDH, true to form, does a better job analyzing the factors than most, hat tip to Instapundit.) Liberals, having a vested interest in these things being broken, have been…well…breaking them. While conservatives did nothing.
So these people say that what we saw three weeks ago was the culmination of a lot of carefully-coordinated, driven, determined hard work by our friends the liberals since twenty years ago…or forty…or even eighty. I concur in part and dissent in part. Careful coordination, drive and determination are rather difficult to achieve. I think I know what they look like, and I think I know what the effort looks like when people try to get ’em going. I don’t see any of this stuff from our friends the libs. None of it. Even when they do exactly what I was describing, up above; finish up with one subtask, and put some thought into figuring out what the next one is. They do not look, to me, like Morgan working from one of his notorious thousands-of-rows-long 8-point-font Excel 97 spreadsheets. Not even close. What I see is raw, emotion-based, unbridled impulse.
What I see reminds me of a dog chasing a car.
And when conservatives make their attempts to try to comprehend it, I’m seeing a mistake being made. I do not know if it is a meaningful one, and if it is a meaningful mistake, I can’t completely define how. Perhaps it does not matter. But there is a major disconnect here, and I think it’s got to do with conservatives seeing things in absolute terms, whereas liberals, like the dog chasing the car, see things only in the relative.
This is to be easily demonstrated by asking a lib one of my favorite questions: Once government has achieved perfection and provides everything it should be providing, how much spending to make it happen, on a dollars-per-nose-per-annum basis? What’s that magic number? It works particularly well after the liberal has just gotten done bellyaching about the lack of efficiency involved in privatized this-or-that, the failure to centralize some effort to provide resources, in which case they’re effectively blocked from the escape hatch of “can’t put a price on human [whatever].” They react like they’ve been tazed, or hit over the head with a board: completely stunned. To paraphrase one of our most frequent and respected comment-posters on this blog, if they thought in those terms they wouldn’t be liberals.
The fact is, liberalism isn’t really an objective. Conservatism might be an objective, but liberalism is merely a direction. Dog chasing the car. It doesn’t really know where it’s going, nor does it care.
So how about that list of ways in which we, as an evolving society, have become increasingly hostile toward the grappling with details. You know what? It turns out an exhaustive listing doesn’t do much good here, either. I’ll just add that to my list of things to do.
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